Communication Is Key in a Relationship: Here’s Why

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Attached" by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does the book Attached have to say about communication in a relationship? How can you communicate like a secure attacher?

Effective communication is key in a relationship and secure attachers tend to be the best at expressing their needs and expectations. Anxious and avoidant attachers, however, tend to struggle with communication.

Keep reading to learn how the different attachment styles communicate and how to communicate like a secure attacher.

Communicate Like a Secure Attacher 

Whether your attachment style is anxious or avoidant, communication is key in a relationship and learning to communicate like a secure attacher will help you thrive in your intimate relationships. If you’re seeking a new partner, communicating directly and honestly can help you choose the right one—someone who is genuinely concerned with your interests and desires. Once you’re in a relationship, it helps to ensure your needs are met. And there’s a bonus attached: Every time you communicate like a secure attacher, you’re setting a good example and encouraging openness and honesty in your relationship.

Secure attachers express their needs and expectations directly and in a nonthreatening, inoffensive, noncritical manner. For example, if they want affection, they gently ask for a kiss or a hug. If they think their partner is brooding over something, they ask questions about what they’re feeling. If they aren’t sure where the relationship is headed in the future, they state what they would like to occur and they ask their partner what their goals are. 

What Effective Communication Sounds Like

Follow these principles of effective communication: 

  1. Be brave and assertive. Complete honesty about your emotions requires courage, so summon that courage before you start to speak. Don’t apologize for feeling what you feel. Even if your partner doesn’t view your concerns as legitimate, you do—and that’s why you’re initiating this conversation. Example: “I’m 35 years old, and I’d really like to start a family in the next couple years. I’m hoping to have at least two kids. I want to find out whether you want to have a family, too.” 
  2. Focus your words on what you need or want. Use phrases like “I need,” “I feel,” and “I want.” Example: “I need to know that I can trust you. When you stay out late at night, and I can’t reach you on the phone, I worry about our relationship. I feel concerned about whether you’re being faithful.”  
  3. Use specific examples to illustrate your concerns. Don’t rely on generalities, which leave room for misunderstandings. Stick to concrete language. Example: “When you don’t sleep in the bed with me after we have sex, I feel like you don’t want the kind of intimacy that I need.” 
  4. Avoid blaming, judging, or accusing. Your goal is not to make your partner feel inadequate—after all, their needs are just as valid as yours. Example: “I need to know that you respect my intelligence. When you make jokes about me being a dumb blonde, I question whether you value me for my brains or my looks.”
  5. Time your discussion for when both parties are calm and collected. If the situation is already volatile, let it simmer down before you attempt an honest, forthright discussion. 

How Communication Reveals Attachment Styles 

Communicating effectively with your partner will reveal a lot about their attachment style. After calmly stating your needs to your partner, pay attention to how they respond. Even in the early stages of a relationship, their response will likely be telling:  

  1. Do they listen attentively and seem genuinely concerned about what you’re saying? (They’re secure or anxious.)
  2. Do they try to evade the issue or change the subject? (They’re avoidant.)
  3. Do they respond in a belittling manner or try to make you feel inferior or foolish? (They’re avoidant.)
  4. Do they respond to your emotional state (secure behavior) or only to the logic of your words, as in “just the facts, Ma’am.”  (They’re avoidant.)

Why Anxious Attachers Struggle With Communication 

People without a secure attachment style find that effective communication doesn’t come naturally. In the case of anxious attachers, they fear honest, direct discussions because they don’t feel confident their needs are valid and worthy. Since they don’t want to sound desperate or needy, they tend to play psychological games, hedging their bets on what feelings to express or suppress in order to maintain a “cool” persona.  

Anxious attachers also believe that if they want to talk about a problem in the relationship, their partner will respond negatively. The anxious attacher sees their relationship as a delicate flower that  could easily wilt. When they finally work up the courage to talk to their partner, their words often come out wrong—they sound critical, accusing, or threatening. They push their partners away rather than bringing them closer.  

By not communicating directly, anxious attachers wind up getting more hurt. But direct, effective communication can only help them. It’s possible that in an honest, straightforward discussion, the anxious partner may wind up hearing what they dread to hear. (Perhaps when they finally get up the nerve to discuss having a monogamous relationship, their partner may admit that’s not what they want.) Although the truth may hurt, it helps the anxious partner in the long term by clarifying their status in the relationship, perhaps giving them the freedom to move on.  

Why Avoidant Attachers Struggle With Communication 

Like anxious attachers, avoidants often feel like something is wrong in their relationships, but they usually can’t identify exactly what it is. They feel agitated—like they want to run out of the room—but they don’t understand why. 

Often the avoidant partner will reason: “I guess I’m not really in love with So-and-So.” This kind of simplistic logic leads to a long trail of dead-end relationships and doesn’t tackle the problem’s root. 

An avoidant’s most important communication need is finding a gentle way to express his or her need for space, whether it’s emotional or physical. The avoidant must learn how to state this need for breathing room without making it sound like it’s their partner’s fault. In other words, the avoidant needs to make it plain that the partner is not the problem. 

This sounds like the classic relationship cliche “It’s not you; it’s me,” but it’s different. In this case, the avoidant partner isn’t exiting the relationship but is doing what’s needed to keep the relationship alive. 

When Effective Communication Is Key

Is every tiny disagreement or negative emotion between two people worthy of an intensely deep heart-to-heart discussion? Probably not. But if either of the following scenarios applies, reach for your effective communication tools:

  1. If you feel anxious. If your partner has done something that makes you feel like acting out or playing games—not answering his or her calls, threatening to leave, thinking of ways to make your partner jealous—figure out exactly what you need, and find a way to kindly and assertively ask for it. 
  2. If you feel like you’re suffocating. Instead of running away, tell your partner you need some space, and you’d like to do it in a way that’s not hurtful to him or her. With your partner’s needs in mind, suggest a few possible ways you might be able to achieve this, and let him or her weigh in. 
Communication Is Key in a Relationship: Here’s Why

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  • Why your partner behaves the way they do
  • How your attachment style affects your relationship
  • How to distance yourself from unhealthy relationships

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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